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Guwahati’s Water Woes

Water Crisis


Experts believe that the next world war could be fought over water due to the gravity of its scarcity across the world, especially Asia whose “water woes have been exacerbated by rapidly expanding economies, surging populations, rising per capita consumption levels, and continuing rural-to-urban migration”, to quote Prof Brahma Chellaney, one of the world’s leading strategic thinkers and analysts, from his epoch-making book Water: Asia’s New Battleground. “The water crisis now haunting the continent is the bitter fruit of unsustainable practices and a gross mismanagement of basin resources. And it has been accentuated by the rapid spread of irrigated farming and high water-consuming industries and by a growing middle class that not only uses water-guzzling comforts such as washing machines and dishwashers but is also eating more meat, which is notoriously water-intensive to produce,” he adds. The haphazardly expanding city of Guwahati, now virtually a concrete jungle, has all the features as noted by Prof Chellaney to make it a highly water-scarce and water-starved urban zone, except for any effects of any spread of irrigated farming. As this newspaper reported on Monday, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the NITI Aayog, the Central Ground Water Commission, and other agencies showing extreme concern over the aggravating water crisis in the country, Guwahati seems to be not on the radar of attention even as it grapples with the crisis of a monumental proportion while those at the helm of affairs choose to look the other way when some unscrupulous sections remain devoted to the business of only aggravating the situation.

The daily potable water supply demand of Guwahati’s approximately 32 lakh people is around 265 million litres, while the three agencies responsible to meet the demand – the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC), the Public Health Engineering (PHE) Department and the Urban Water Authority – together supply only around 75 million litres daily. This huge demand-supply mismatch has affected the residents of the city very badly. But there is no action on the ground when it comes to cracking down on those who are primarily responsible for the crisis, and when it also comes to taking initiatives to mitigate the woes by way of innovative measures such as rainwater harvesting. For instance, according to a building byelaw, apartments should have rainwater harvesting systems of their own to respond to the water demands of their residents. But there is a flagrant violation of that byelaw. This is outrageous, given that the groundwater level of the city is going down rapidly due to the excessive and rampant extraction of groundwater, including by certain sections boring tube wells just to supply water commercially so as to earn quick bucks. In fact, deep tube wells need to be at least 200 meters apart from one another, but even here there is a rampancy of violation and no one is there from the authority concerned – nay, the government – to ensure that such violation is stopped and the guilty brought to book. Nor has the State government taken the Centre’s directive to the States – to preserve groundwater and rainwater in the form of ponds and other water bodies – seriously. In fact, there is no awakening at all as to the need to address the problem on a war-footing. There is no water vision document in place. The case of the city of Shillong – otherwise the capital of the Abode of Clouds – is no different too. The people of the city have long borne the brunt of the lack of a tangible water policy document and implementation.

All said and done, what is at stake is the very question of the survival of people in such rapidly expanding urban centres – people who have been left at the mercy of those in the corridors of power who are acutely short on ideas to take the water crisis head-on and chalk out strategies with inputs from brains in the academia and not just from the ones adorning the over-sized bureaucracy. So are we in for small water wars across such cities with the possibility of them spiralling out of control to become huge ones in the times to come with people even resorting to violence and bloodshed because there is no water even to drink?